| Ellingwood Ridge
Ellingwood Ridge – LaPlata Peak
The Ellingwood Ridge of LaPlata Peak has been described as long and discouraging. Roach, in his popular guide book repeats the phrase, “the view from here is discouraging” several times as if to stress the unpleasantness of the experience of this climb. While the view from several of the wonderful vantage points along this ridge might be “discouraging” to someone with an expectation to scamper along it in an hour or two, knowing the ridge is long and complicated, and going with a siege mentality makes this hike something to savor along the way for as long as it takes.
On September 24, 2011 I set out on what would turn out to be an unseasonably warm fall day ready to spent upwards of 12+ hours on this notorious ridge. With a slow and steady grind, and little time attempting side projects on the many inviting rock towers offering tempting diversions along the way, I found myself back at the car a little under 9 hours after I started.
At 5:30 a.m. there was plenty of frost to shake off of the tent before starting out. A quick bite to eat and I was on the trail guided by headlamp before 6:00 o’clock.
Bushwhacking through the woods in the dark after leaving the main trail proved to be one of the more confusing parts of the day. Various route descriptions talk about leaving the main LaPlata trial after crossing LaPlata Gulch Creek on a log bridge. After 100 feet or so from the creek I found a faint path in the dark that seemed to fit the description. Later, on the way down I would see two other faint trails, much more distinct that the one I took, that I would guess were better options. Here are photos of the three in order from the creek.
The most prominent of these is the third that is about 100 yards from the creek and leaves the main trail just before it turns south (right) and begins an ascent of some well crafted stone steps. (a side note before anyone comments, I did not remove the flagging tape marking the middle trail, but I am sure whoever left it there will take it out when they are done.)
The hike around the northern terminus of the Northwest Ridge was not difficult. The bushwhacking was through open woods with little undergrowth. After a half hour or so the dawn was coming on pretty good and when I put the headlamp away I suspected I had gone higher up than necessary when I could spy the northern terminus of Ellingwood through the trees. The 12,600 plateau looked quite distant and it appeared I would have to descend quite far to cross the LaPlata Basin Creek. But luck was with me and I had lost no more than 50 vertical feet when I crossed an excellent trail that contoured to the creek and continued on the other side reaching the “prominent ridge” that gives good passage to treeline in less than 2 minutes after the creek crossing.
Once out of the trees there was a nice view of the North face of LaPlata in the early morning light.
There is a steep push up a boulder field to reach the 12,600’ start of Ellingwood. There was no hint of a trial and it didn’t seem to make much difference how this is accomplished. I took it on pretty much straight up. When treading on the larger boulders care should be taken. Many of these were quite loose and on the whole, the boulder field seemed rather unstable.
Gaining the ridge was literally half the battle, taking just about three hours of the 6 ½ hour trip to the summit. I suspect this could be done more quickly in daylight and by taking one of the other paths between LaPlata Gulch Creek and LaPlata Basin Creek. After ascending some grassy slopes for a short while the first rock tower presents itself
Skirting around this, and the others along the first 1/3 of the ridge is pretty straightforward. Looking back at them it is easy to see how a day could be spent scrambling around a variety of interesting boulder problems.
There is nothing too complicated along this portion of the ridge all the way to the grassy knoll that is Pt. 13,140’ shown in this next photo with an X.
A look ahead from Pt. 13,140’ doesn’t appear too much different from what has come before, but the difficulties do increase significantly from here.
If you have time to kill and want to stay high on the ridge it is possible to climb over and around the these towers on 4th and 5th class rock. If you want to keep the difficulty in the 3rd class range be prepared to descend. The longer you put off the inevitable, the more difficult it will become but from what I saw all paths eventually lead to a “small but distinct dirt bench on a rib”. Here it is:
And the view from that bench looking back at how much elevation was given up.
And a look forward. I followed the path marked on the next photo and although there may be many options, this one worked very well.
Although the descriptions I had read talk about lots of up and down from this point I found that it was pretty steady up from this point. Once the bench marked in the previous photo was reached the view forward was this:
And from there it was back on the ridge for most of the rest of the day. The view once the ridge was regained was NOT discouraging in the least.
There was a short and enjoyable knife edge to walk across and ahead in this photo, the last tower to get around.
A look back at the ridge from this point was very satisfying.
From here you could pretty much eyeball the route to the summit of E. LaPlata. There were a variety of options, but the ridge crest was good fun. With E. LaPlata looming ahead, the true summit of LaPlata can be seen still a way off in the background right of center in the next pic.
The view from E. LaPlata:
And a view from the summit:
And finally, a look down at the descent route off the Northwest Ridge.
Hope you enjoyed this trip report and with this info don’t ever find yourself discouraged by any of the many gorgeous views along the Ellingwood Ridge of LaPlata Peak.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):